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RI medical school to pioneer addiction-treatment program

Students will graduate qualified for the required federal "waiver" to prescribe medications to treat opioid-use disorders


By Lynn Arditi
The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Brown University's Warren Alpert Medical School has launched a program designed to make it easier for new doctors to qualify to treat addiction.

Beginning in May 2018, medical school students will graduate with the necessary training to qualify for the required federal "waiver" to prescribe medications such as buprenorphine, known by its brand name Suboxone, to treat opioid-use disorders.

The program — described as the first of its kind in the country — aims to increase the number of physicians approved to treat patients with substance-abuse disorders, according to an article in American Journal on Addictions, whose lead author is Dr. Elinore F. McCance-Katz, chief medical officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH). A psychiatrist and Brown University professor of medicine and of public health, McCance-Katz was recently appointed by President Donald Trump as the federal mental health "czar."

The program, created in partnership with the BHDDH and the Rhode Island Department of Health, "helps to bring treatment of substance use disorders into mainstream medicine," McCance-Katz said in a statement released by the BHDDH. It also "helps the [medical] students develop a greater sense of confidence in their ability to treat the disorder."

The effort is part of the treatment strategy in Gov. Gina Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force's Action Plan.

Brown medical students will receive 23 hours of substance-use disorders training — nearly four times the eight-hour training required for practicing doctors to qualify for the waivers. By making addiction medicine a standard part of medical school curriculum, officials say, it also could help reduce the stigma around substance-use disorders.

"Hospitals and health-care facilities are being overwhelmed by individuals who are seeking treatment for opioid use disorders and cannot meet the demand," Dr. Paul George, assistant dean for medical education at the Alpert Medical School, said in the statement. "This program is a significant step forward in increasing the number of physicians who can prescribe medications to treat opioid use disorders."

In Rhode Island, as in other parts of the country, the demand for medication-assisted treatment has grown along with the opioid epidemic. The number of Rhode Islanders receiving buprenorphine treatment during the last 12 months has grown nearly 11 percent, to 4,655 people — compared with 4,195 people in May 2017, according preventoverdoseri.org, a website that tracks state health data.

Though the waiver qualification applies only to physicians practicing in Rhode Island, state health officials will encourage those in other states to consider similar partnerships.

McCance-Katz, formerly chief medical officer of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), helped create the federal Drug Abuse Treatment Act of 2000, which allows physicians to obtain prescribing waivers for medications to treat opioid addiction with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Copyright 2017 The Providence Journal

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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